GoNOMAD MINI GUIDE: Vacation Rentals in Europe
By Ann H. Waigand
Remember the movie, Enchanted April? The one where four women leave the men in their lives to spend an April vacation sharing a villa in Italy?
Renting a vacation home in Europe is easy to do and offers both an affordable way to visit any country and an unparalleled way to gain a “local” perspective. Rentals range from apartments in the city to castles in the country, and almost everything in between. And yes, there are plenty of villas in Italy.
Some people pick their destination first, then go looking for the right rental property. That’s one way to approach vacation rentals in Europe. On the other hand, you can treat illustrated listings of vacation rentals like dream books. When something jumps off the page, you know your destination.
Whether you choose where to go first, or wait for the serendipity of an unusual property to catch your eye, you’ll want to ask these standard questions to prepare for your own Enchanted April, May, June or December.
WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO?
If you’ve always dreamed of a villa in Tuscany, or a flat in London, your choice is easy. On the other hand, there are plenty of small villages and un-touristed locations from which to choose. Many vacation rental companies specialize in properties in a certain country or region. Make sure to get their catalogues or visit their web sites. If, however, you aren’t sure where you want to go, it’s best to consider a rental company that offers a wide range of properties in many countries.
WHEN DO YOU WANT TO GO?
When you plan to go is also important. Some properties are only available in certain seasons, while others — especially in popular destinations — are booked a year or more in advance for high season. If budget is a priority, consider renting in the off or shoulder seasons when rates are lower. The first lesson in renting abroad: If you have your heart set on a specific destination or property, reserve at least six months, and as much as a year, in advance. Be willing to be flexible on dates.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO WHILE YOU ARE ABROAD?
You’re not just going to Europe to stay in some enchanted house, are you? Probably not. Chances are, you will combine your stay with some sightseeing or other excursions. It is important to consider your itinerary when searching for a vacation rental. Will you be sightseeing from dawn to dusk, then lingering over a gourmet dinner or catching a play or concert? Or would you rather chill out, get away from it all, settle in and relax? Surprisingly, there are vacation rentals that fit each of these opposing objectives. WHAT’S YOUR BUDGET?
Having access to a kitchen, albeit with the typical tiny European-style refrigerator, can mean the difference between a $10/day breakfast habit or an equally delectable pastry and coffee with money left over for souvenirs or sightseeing. And, though the pool-bedecked villa overlooking the Mediterranean will set you back more than a stay at the Ritz, there are plenty of price-conscious properties made even more affordable when you divide the overall rental rate across a family, small group, or two couples. Make sure to add cost of the rental to an approximate food budget and transportation costs to get a more accurate idea of your budget. TYPES OF RENTALS
Generally, you can rent anything from a walk-up studio apartment in Paris to an Onassis-style villa on a Greek Island. Rural farmhouses, urban townhouses and village cottages also fill rental company catalogues. For a real treat, you can even rent a castle or a restored chicken coop from one of the numerous companies that specialize in historical properties!The type of rental you choose will be determined by a number of factors including your itinerary, goals, destination, budget and the number of people in your party. If intensive sightseeing will fill your travel journal, you’ll want to make sure to pick a property in-town or near clean, close, prompt, inexpensive transportation options. Apartment rentals in Europe’s capital cities often make city stays more affordable. On the other hand, at a farmhouse in the Dordogne Valley, you can awake each morning to the sound of cocks crowing and open the window to a view that stretched across farmland to mist-shrouded hills in the distance. The town of St. Cyprien is nearby…that is, if you have a car…but you might be content to fill your days strolling in the countryside and along the riverbank. Make sure to choose accordingly.WHO IS STAYING WITH YOU?
How many people are coming along on this trip? Wherever you lease a property (worldwide and in the U.S. as well), you’ll find an occupancy limit clearly stated in the rental description. These restrictions are sacrosanct, and you can be booted out of your overseas home if you bring more people than allowed. Be careful about inviting friends “to visit:” if you get caught, they (or you!) will be charged.If children will be part of your group, take a second look at the numbers. A quaint country cottage in Wales that appears, at first glance, to house just two people may up the number to four if two are children. Never ask for a cot for an extra person. In most European countries, a cot is a baby crib. Moreover, some properties just aren’t appropriate for small children (or won’t accept them!).While you’re deciding the number in your party, take the time to get all travelers to answer our initial “why” question. No amount of good intentions to save money by avoiding restaurants and cooking meals at home in your rental property will get you out of the dog house if the person you figured on doing the cooking had packed instead for a nightly outing to a Michelin-starred restaurant. HOW LONG DO YOU PLAN TO STAY?
Check to make sure your travel plans fit within any minimum or maximum rental length restrictions. Most properties have a set check-in day (rentals usually run Saturday to Saturday or, less often, Wednesday to Wednesday).
The start date will determine your travel days and, in many destinations, should prompt you to add a few staples (cereal, dry milk, snack foods) to your packing. Always ask about nearby markets or grocery stores, and double check their opening hours and days: you don’t want to arrive to find all the stores closed for a holiday and have no food to stock to cupboard. Some properties can also be cheaper the longer you stay. Make sure to check.OTHER PROVISIONS
Make sure to confirm what will be included in your rental. Will you have all the bedding provided, or do you have to bring your own sheets from home? Is the kitchen fully applianced (coffee maker? Teapot? Toaster? Microwave?)? Are there any things you will need that aren’t supplied? If so, plan to bring them with you from home or purchase them in your destination.CHECK OUT
Confirm who is responsible for cleaning the rental upon check-out. Are you? Is there maid service? Is there an extra fee for cleaning? Where are keys left? When are deposits returned? Read the fine print and ask questions before you rent.
WHERE TO FIND RENTALS
You can find vacation rentals on the Internet, in books and guidebooks, and in glossy, photo-filled catalogs compiled by the various companies that represent holiday properties. Italy, France, and Britain offer the greatest number of options with Spain (particularly along the Costa del Sol), Germany, Greece, and Portugal not far behind. With a little digging, you can even locate vacation rentals in Hungary, Holland, Malta, and Scandinavia.
And don’t worry if you don’t speak a single word of Italian, French, or German (and don’t expect an English-speaking rental company representative on-site, unless you’ve made a special request…and paid for it). There are several US-based companies that handle everything in English. But if you are dealing with a European company, you’ll be surprised at how well you can navigate on hand signals and smiles. Most properties also have a handbook waiting for you, filled with details in English on everything from how to work the water heater to where to find the best cheese in town. What else do you need for your own Enchanted April?
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